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Supreme Court set to hear international child custody case

Rhode Island residents may have heard the recent news that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a child custody case. Only about 1 percent of all cases presented to the Supreme Court are granted certiorari, and very few of these are family law cases.

The child custody case involves an Army sergeant in an international dispute over the custody of his 5-year-old daughter. The father of the girl is American, and the mother is Scottish. The little girl, who was born in Germany, has dual citizenship in the United States and the United Kingdom. Her father was deployed in Afghanistan when the mother and daughter moved to Scotland, and the family later reunited in Alabama.

Not long after they reunited in the U.S., the couple began having marital problems, and the mother argued to a federal district court that the child's habitual residence was Scotland. The court issued a court order to return the child to Scotland in accordance with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The Supreme Court will now decide on the issue of whether American federal appellate courts have the authority to review a district court's order returning the child to her habitual residence. The matter is complicated by the fact that the habitual residence lies outside of the United States.

However, the Supreme Court could rule that the child's habitual residence is actually the United States instead of Scotland. If this is the case, the child could be ordered back to the United States, and the child custody proceedings would be held in Alabama instead of Scotland.

This case could have far-reaching consequences, particularly for military families. Deployment and frequent reassignments make matters of family law more complex for service members. Rhode Island residents with similar concerns may want to keep an eye on this case as it goes forward.

Source: Huffington Post, "Rare Family Law Case Heard by U.S. Supreme Court," Margaret Ryznar, Dec. 10, 2012

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